WILLIAM SEFTON MOORHOUSE
1825 - 1881
LOCAL MERCHANT AND PIONEER OF
CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND
by RON GOSNEY
The plaque acknowledging the life of
William Sefton Moorhouse
In Knottingley there was but one blue heritage plaque adorning the wall of
the recently demolished 'Old Hall' once the home of the Moorhouse family.
The plaque acknowledged the life of William Sefton Moorhouse, (1825-1881)
a pioneer of New Zealand, and his achievement in being the brains behind
the construction of the Lyttleton to Christchurch tunnel.
Born on 15th November
1825 in Knottingley and the son of William and Anne Moorhouse (nee
Carter) he died September 15, 1881 in Wellington, New Zealand. He received a
good education and then decided to go to sea, saying once in a speech that
he had been second mate in a vessel that called at Hobart in 1843. He also
recalled that he had sailed on his father’s coal ships. Then, Sir Samuel
Martin, MP. for Pontefract and afterwards Baron of the Exchequer who had
been assisted by William’s father in his election to Parliament, advised
putting him into the legal profession. He accordingly entered the chambers
of a prominent council in London and in 1849 was called to the bar at the
Middle Temple, and for the next year or two he practised on the Northern
younger brothers Thomas Carter and Benjamin Michael Moorhouse they sailed
on 12 August 1851 in the ship Cornwall arriving at Lyttleton on December
10, 1851. The three brothers had entered into a partnership before
leaving England to farm in New Zealand., but though they purchased land
the prospects did not appear attractive. On 26 January 1852 he took the
oath in the Supreme Court at Wellington and was admitted to the New
Zealand bar, and as an attorney.
William married his fiancée Jane Ann Collins who had sailed out from
Gravesend on 16 September 1853 on the Northfleet, her first voyage.
She was born 22 March 1824 at Maidstone in Kent, being educated for 5
years in France. She appears in the 1851 Census living at Marine Villa,
Knottingley, as a salaried Governess for the younger sisters of William
Sefton Moorhouse. Another passenger on the Northfleet later wrote
“without waiting for a pilot we sailed straight into Wellington harbour
and there was the ship Tory with her Blue Peter up ready to sail to
Australia. Amongst our passengers was the wife and three children of the Tory’s
captain and the fiancée of William Sefton Moorhouse. William had
chartered the Tory to bring back stock from Australia, and was
going over with the ship, but thanks to the quick passage Jane had come
out faster than the letter announcing her change of plans.” They were
married next day 15 December 1853 at 8 o’clock at St. Paul’s Church,
Wellington and then set sail. His brothers had gone to the Australian
diggings, and William feeling his responsibility for them persuaded his
bride to go with him to Victoria. The brothers were engaged on the
construction of the waterworks at Yan Yean, and the four lived in tents
some distance away from the works. When the contract was finished they all
returned to New Zealand residing first in Lyttleton and then in
Christchurch. Mrs Moorhouse in her diaries catalogues the 10 different
homes in which they lived during the first 14 years of married life.
his profession as a Lawyer and for some time acted as editor of the
Lyttleton Times and as a resident Magistrate. He also farmed and had many
dealings in land and was always interested in horses, prize and stud stock
of all classes. He was owner of a sailing brig Gratitude trading
between N.Z. and Melbourne carrying produce for the Victorian gold miners.
In a book published privately in 1901 Mrs M.L. Guthrie Hay gave this
account: ‘Ebenezer Hay chartered the brig Gratitude from William
Sefton Moorhouse sailing from Lyttleton for Melbourne on 26 September 1855
with 106 tons of potatoes, 700 bushels of oats, 2 tons of cheese and half
a ton of butter. To reduce his risk, Mr Hay sold half the potatoes to Mr.
Moorhouse, who was also a passenger on board. After a three week trip they
found they were a month late to realise top prices, potatoes were fetching
£14 a ton in place of £30 they had been selling for; other produce
realised low prices resulting in a loss on the venture. For the return
William Moorhouse went to Sydney where he purchased a cargo of horses
while Mr Hay invested in sugar, tea, rice etc. They left Sydney in middle
of December and after a long passage of 37 days arrived a few miles north
of Lyttleton harbour. Another ship Surge arriving at the same time
kept in shore to catch the morning wind reaching Lyttleton safely and
reported the Gratitude a few miles off Lyttleton Heads. However,
instead of staying inshore the Gratitude put to sea where she was
caught in a South East gale and blown far to the north, eventually
reaching Lyttleton on 14 February 1856 after a trip of 58 days. On arrival
it was found they had been given up as lost, and Mrs Moorhouse had already
donned the apparel of a widow. Rations were very low for the last three
weeks and they had resorted to grilled horseflesh, and of the 27 horses
shipped only three were landed, some being lost or thrown overboard.’
elected to Provincial Council of Canterbury in 1855, then after
resignation of Mr J.E. Fitzgerald as Superintendent of Canterbury in 1857,
William was elected with a large majority. He was re-elected in 1861, but
resigned in February 1863. After acting in other capacities he was again
elected Superintendent in May 1866, a position he held for two years.
tenure of office as Superintendent of Province of Canterbury, his policy
was to improve communications and his tunnel scheme was considered
incredibly daring and for a time did not receive much support. William had
graduated through the tough school of the Merchant Navy and the goldfields
and, although a qualified lawyer was rather better known for his skills
with his fists than for his forensic gifts, but largely through his
advocacy and perseverance, the tunnel, named after him ‘Moorhouse Tunnel’
was promoted and constructed to carry a single line railway from the Port
of Lyttleton through the hills to the Canterbury Plains where Christchurch
had been built. The first stone was laid at the north end by Mrs.
Moorhouse on 29 September 1862, and it was formally opened by
Superintendent Moorhouse on 29 June 1867. An English firm, Smith and
Knight had undertaken the tunnel contract but abandoned the project when
they met volcanic rock. Undeterred, Moorhouse immediately left for
Australia and came back with a contract with the firm Holmes and
Richardson who completed the work without further misadventure.
In 1862 he
bought 100 acres of land in the Merivale district and built up an estate.
When declared bankrupt in 1871 the sale adverts describe his property as
the most complete dwelling in the province with many acres of land and
some extremely fine horses. It was purchased by the Studholm family who
were relatives. In the depths of bankruptcy he once told a friend that he
had spent £10,000 in ‘buying popularity.’
appointed to the position of Secretary for Crown Lands and Registrar
General of Lands under the Land Transfer Act of 1870, and moved from
Christchurch to Wellington in 1871 where he practised as a lawyer. He was
later returned as Member of Parliament in 1875 and again in 1879, and was
also Mayor of Wellington in 1875.
After a long
illness he died in Wellington on 15 September 1881, and was accorded a
Public Funeral. His body was conveyed to Lyttleton in the Government
steamer Stella and he was buried in the Churchyard at St. Peter’s,
The statue of William Sefton Moorhouse
On 22 November 1885, a bronze statue, erected by public subscription, was
unveiled in the public gardens at Christchurch by the Governer, Sir Wm. D.
Jervois. The work of an English sculptor, G. A. Lawson, it represents
William Moorhouse seated and is mounted on a pedestal of blue stone, and
cost about £1,000.
It is interesting to note that in July 1859 other family members joined the
exodus, arriving aboard the ship Margaretha Roesner, they were
Edward, Sarah Ann, Lucy Ellen Sykes and Mary, followed later by sister
Elizabeth, who, although an invalid caused by a riding accident, kept
house for William Sefton Moorhouse. Both Lucy Ellen and Sarah Ann
prospered, marrying pioneering emigrants from England. A racehorse called
Knottingley twice won the New Zealand Cup, and to this day there is a ‘Knottingley
Park’ in New Zealand.
Another brother, William Septimus de Septimo Moorhouse went to Australia where two
of his children were christened with names that included Knottingley, but
that’s another story.
SARAH ANN MOORHOUSE
The sister of William Sefton Moorhouse, Sarah Ann moved to New Zealand in 1859. On 29 November
1869 she married William Barnard Rhodes at Merivale Church, Christchurch,
and they resided in Wellington, it was at The Grange, Wadestown,
Wellington she died on 2 January 1914. There were no children from the
marriage, but William Barnard Rhodes had an illegitimate daughter by a
Maori lady and she was Mary Ann Rhodes, born in 1852.
In the mid
1880s Sarah Ann made a return visit to her hometown Knottingley and
presented to St. Botolph’s Church a font, pulpit and lectern in memory
of her parents and sister.
In 1902 she
was instrumental in placing the Wellington Nursing Guild on a sound
financial basis, and was associated with the activities of the
organisation of St. John of Jerusalem, then in 1906 was made Lady Grace of
that order. At the time of the coronation in 1911 she was privately
received by Queen Mary and explained to her the working of the Nursing
Guild in Wellington.
Sarah Ann and William Sefton Moorhouse, Edward moved to New Zealand in 1859 and
was sheep farming at Owhoaka and Murimutu on the North Island.
On 11 July 1883 at St. Paul's Pro-Cathedral, Wellington he married Mary Ann Rhodes,
the illegitimate daughter of his brother in law. After their marriage they
lived in England at Spratton Grange near Northampton and hunted with the
Pytchley, Quorn and Badsworth hunts. Later they moved to the South of
England and Edward died at Parnham House, Beaminster, Dorset on 27
November 1917 aged 82 years.
One of the
children of this marriage was William Barnard Rhodes Moorhouse. Educated
at Harrow and Cambridge then from an early age he devoted himself to fast
cars then aeroplanes. Around 1906 he knocked down and killed a boy near
the pier on Brighton beach when on a motor-bike race, charges of
manslaughter against him were withdrawn.
aviation 1909/10, he was associated with Jas. Radley in mono-plane
activities and manufacture at Huntingdon, and gained his pilots
certificate in October 1911. He competed in ‘Daily Mail’
prize flights from London to Manchester and round England, and was first
to show the applicability of aeroplanes to the carriage of parcel post by
flying from Northampton to Hendon with parcels of boots. In August 1912 he
was the first to cross the channel from Douai in France to Ashood in
England with two passengers, one being his wife, in a Brequet biplane.
outbreak of war he volunteered for active service and was killed after
having successfully dropped bombs on the railway station at Courtrai to
halt a German advance. When gliding at a low level, so as to be able to
report what damage he had done, he was shot in three places, but in spite
of his plane being hit many times by bullets and shrapnel, he was able to
return 35 miles to his base and made his report. He died of his wounds the
next day 17 April 1915, aged 28 years.
action, Second Lieut. Moorhouse was posthumously awarded the Victoria
Cross, being the first member of the Flying Corps to receive this honour.
In 1990 this medal sold at auction for £126,500. [Telegraph 17 Sep 1990]
A portrait of
him was painted in 1987? which I believe is in the R.N.Z.A.F. Museum at Wigram,
and being of Maori descent he was erroneously shown to have a swarthy
Also by Ron Gosney:
1951 Festival of Britain Celebrations
Glassmakers of Knottingley
Captain George Colverson
Christopher Rowbotham & Sons
Disasters at Sea